Whitko gets chance to avenge buzzer-beating loss to City

   It’s funny how basketball doesn’t always give second chances, yet sets up opportunities for payback. A controversial moment to start the season can be settled once and for all by Whitko.  
   After winning their sectional opener Tuesday over NorthWood, 61-45, the Wildcats earned a chance to avenge a 59-58 regular season loss at the hands of Whitley County rival Columbia City 6 p.m. Friday at  the class 3A Wawasee sectional.  
   “Our seniors are motivated,” Whitko head coach Rob Irwin said. “(Columbia City) coach (Chris) Benedict has kind of had my number over the years so I’m hoping I can maybe even it up a little bit more.”
   As the buzzer came in the first game of the regular season, the Columbia City-Whitko rivalry was as strong as ever thanks to a Drew Benedict shot officially ruled a three-pointer.
   Since then, Columbia City (15-5) and Whitko (16-5) have been keeping an eye on one another from a distance.
   “It was a long time ago,” coach Benedict said. “Both teams have gotten better since then. The difference is they’ve played a sectional game and we haven’t yet.”
   The two rivals come together one final time in the postseason — before Columbia City makes the jump  to class 4A next season — adds to the pressure of the situation.
   “For the longest time we were in different sectionals and we play that first game of the year and you don’t have to follow them as close because you don’t play them again,” Benedict noted. “Now, you have to follow them closer because you could see them in the sectional and here we are.”
   Both coaches lead teams where their son is the top scorer and the main focus of the opposing defense.
   Whitko’s threat comes in the two-headed monster of all-time leading scorer at Whitko Logan Irwin and senior Zac VanDeWater.
   Both have over 1,000 points as a Wildcat. Irwin is one of the top in northeast Indiana in points averaged (25.2) while VanDeWater follows him up with 19 per game.
   “Those two guys are really good offensively and you have your work cut out with them,” Benedict noted. “You have to be aware of where they are at all the time.
   “The zone at times will help kind of corral them a bit. We’ll probably mix things up a lot. I don’t think you can let them get comfortable in one style the whole game.”
   Zone defenses are nothing new for the Wildcats.
   “Our kids are getting used to it,” coach Irwin said. “We’ve seen so many defenses that are designed to contain Logan.
   “I think now we’re more patient and Logan and Zac are trusting their teammates more.”
   Whitko has won with defense as of late. Coming off a three-game losing streak, the Wildcats have held opponents to less than 50 points in their last two wins.
   Against Columbia City, Whitko will hope to do the same in an Eagles offense led by Drew Benedict’s 17 points per game.
   “We really defended the last few games and that’s what we’ll have to do against Columbia City,” coach Irwin stated. “Anytime you’re trying to win a sectional usually the best defensive team wins.
   “Drew is going to get his threes but we want to make them contested threes. Bottomline is he is going to shoot it far enough out that no human can possibly guard him. Hopefully we’ll make it tough on them and keep them from dribble penetrating on us.”
   The last four meetings between the two rivals have been decided by five points or less. Friday’s semifinal round game looks to be no different.
   “It’s a fun game to be a part of but in the end someone is going to win, someone is going to lose,” Benedict said. “That’s the nature of the beast.
   “I would hope our guys are ready to go. I’m certain their guys are ready to go. It’s going to be the classic Columbia City-Whitko game and is probably going to come down to the end.”